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Oldest Nurse In U.S. Barred From Working Because Of Pandemic

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Florence Rigney is a surgical nurse who's eager to get back to work in these stressful times. But the hospital where she works has barred her from returning because of the coronavirus. It may have something to do with her age. Florence Rigney joins us now from Tacoma, Wash. Ms. Rigney, thanks for being with us. I'm happy to be here.

SIMON: And forgive me for asking. But how old are you?

FLORENCE RIGNEY: I'm 95 now. I tell people I'm 59.

SIMON: (Laughter) Well, you convinced me. And I believe you are the oldest working nurse in America, right?

RIGNEY: I am.

SIMON: I gather you call the hospital to ask when you can come back. What do they tell you?

RIGNEY: I called this week. I had thought maybe I would go back in the month of August. But it seems as though the COVID cases are increasing in our area. And they didn't feel that it was a particularly good idea.

SIMON: Yeah. I'm told you've been a nurse for more than 70 years, right?

RIGNEY: Well, I graduated in 1946. So the end of this month, it will be 74 years that I grdauted from nursing. Basically, I've worked mostly in the operating room.

SIMON: And the operating room can be pretty physically demanding, can't it? I mean, you got to move around carts and stuff.

RIGNEY: Yes. Yes. I'm not doing some of the jobs that I did when I was younger. But I'm busy. I help get the patient in the room, get the monitors on. I do instrument counting, sponge counting, some -prep the patient for the surgery that's to be done. And I tell the young people I'm there to keep them in line.

SIMON: (Laughter) And these past few months and weeks - do you miss work?

RIGNEY: I do. And I miss that people that I work with.

SIMON: Yeah.

RIGNEY: I do miss being there. And I will say that the days go by quickly. I have done - continuing education classes since I've been at home. I do those on the computer. But it isn't like being there. And I'd rather be there and be busy.

SIMON: Oh, well, they must miss you.

RIGNEY: They say they do. And they say they want me to come back. I have a few friends that say, maybe this is the time that you should really retire. And I think about it. Right now, I'd like to go back for a while.

SIMON: Yeah. Florence Rigney is a surgical nurse at Tacoma General Hospital in Tacoma, Wash. Fifty-nine years old, right? Isn't that what I heard?

RIGNEY: Right. Right.

SIMON: Thanks very much for speaking with us.

RIGNEY: It's been a pleasure talking to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.